Project empowers rural communities to shape own HIV/AIDS programmes

SOUTH AFRICA: Project empowers rural communities to shape own HIV/AIDS programmes


Rural dwellers will develop their own programmes

DURBAN, 3 May 2005 (PLUSNEWS) - A new project by South African NGO, the Centre for HIV/AIDS Networking (HIVAN), will enable rural communities across the country to develop their own programmes to deal with the impact of HIV/AIDS.

Since July 2003, the HIVAN team has been investigating how people in rural areas respond to HIV/AIDS despite inadequate resources, including a lack of basic infrastructure and access to health facilities, while suffering from high rates of unemployment and illiteracy.

These obstacles have prevented many rural communities from mounting an effective response to the pandemic, but the survey found that the involvement of local stakeholders was crucial in implementing prevention campaigns.

"Community involvement is the way to bridge the gap between theory and reality [of an HIV/AIDS programme]," explained HIVAN senior social science researcher Yugi Nair, who led the initiative.

After preliminary research, HIVAN recently launched its pilot project, which will run over a three-year period in a deeply rural, poverty-stricken and isolated area in the Mtunzini district of northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Based on the information obtained from the pilot, a model of best practices will be created and implemented in other rural areas throughout the country. Nair believes HIVAN's programme will be successful because it is based on extensive consultation with communal stakeholders, giving it wide and support in the community.

"Communities will have to come up with their own programmes ... We will not impose strategies, but rather help to fill the gaps," she added.

The nearest healthcare facility to Ethembeni (Nair has given the community a fictional name to protect it from being stigmatised) is the Empangeni Hospital, and few residents can afford the transport to get there.

As a result, they have to rely on the services of a mobile clinic that visits the area once a month. But when it rains, the potholed and sandy roads around Ethembeni become inaccessible, and the sick have to wait even longer for assistance.

HIV testing is not offered by the mobile clinic either, so information on HIV prevalence figures in the community is sketchy, but an HIVAN survey conducted among 100 Ethembeni residents estimated that 35 percent of pregnant women and 16 percent of adults were HIV-positive.

Nair felt there was widespread stigma and discrimination, and noted that "people in Ethembeni don't talk about AIDS at all". This meant that families and caregivers nursing terminally ill AIDS patients were isolated and received very little community support, he added.

When HIVAN first started interacting with the Ethembeni community, it found that the only mobilised group dealing with HIV/AIDS were the under-resourced community health workers and home-based carers.

"None of them had received HIV/AIDS-related training," Nair told PlusNews.

It quickly became clear that community health workers alone could not effectively manage the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the area. Subsequently, a committee consisting of faith-based organisations, traditional healers, community health workers, tribal authorities and local health officials was established.

The communal committee will meet on a regular basis and, with the help of HIVAN, develop an HIV/AIDS programme that corresponds to the specific needs of the area.

The NGO will also facilitate HIV/AIDS information sessions, and promote critical thinking about social roots and stigma. "People [living with] HIV/AIDS and their carers often lack information about health networks, or are unable to access them," Nair explained.

Since the beginning of this year, HIVAN has provided 75 community health workers with HIV/AIDS-related education and 10 HIV/AIDS focus groups have been established in the area.

Nair admitted that HIVAN needed "to do more than facilitate", as it was important to link the community with external support networks in the private and government sectors, as well as to civil society and funding organisations.

Over the next three years HIVAN will continue training community health workers and launch two AIDS peer-education programmes - one targeting the youth, the other geared to the men of Ethembeni.


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